Samsung PL120 £100
8th Sep 2011 | 14:50
You can take easy self-portraits with the front screen, but is that all a camera needs?
Overview and features
Next to the 5x optical zoom lens on the PL120 is what looks like a blank space, but it is actually a 1.5 inch LCD screen that shows the live view image - perfect for self portraits.
But that's not all, the PL120 can also play short, colourful animations for entertaining children. The idea is that if you have trouble getting children to smile in your photographs, then this will help.
Activating the front LCD is done by pressing the rectangular button on the top of the camera. Switching between the live view and the children's animation is done using the front LCD button.
Due to the diminutive size of the PL120, there's not a lot of space on the back of the camera. So much so that there's no area dedicated for resting your thumb when you're not using it. The zoom rocker takes up the top third of the area next to the screen with the other buttons and navigation pad taking up the rest of the space.
There are three buttons on the back of the camera that to access some variation of a menu. Meanwhile, the mode button allows you to put the camera into either program, auto, scenes or video mode. The function button brings up a quick access menu on the left side of the screen which lets you make changes to the most frequently used options such as resolution, ISO and white-balance.
The main menu brings up the aforementioned function menu and allows more in-depth changes to the core settings of the camera.
Currently priced at around £100, the PL120 is an ideal option for younger families on a budget that need a decent digital compact camera to take out on days with the kids or on holidays. Social networkers may also enjoy the self portrait mode.
Build quality and handling
The Samsung PL120 is simple enough for the most novice of users to get to grips with, thanks to the intelligent interface and comfortable layout of buttons. The back does look a bit cluttered by virtue of the amount of space available on the small body.
The small body of the PL120 is light but solid, thanks in part to its metal skeleton. The front casing is plastic and has a glossy finish to allow the screen on the front to blend and be hidden when it's not in use. There's a tiny amount of play in the lens when it's switched on but it's nothing major.
The PL120 takes a lithium ion battery which is charged in camera using the charger and cable provided. The cable disconnects from the charging plug revealing a standard USB connector which then connects to the computer for download. The camera will also charge from a computer which is pretty useful if you're travelling or you've simply been caught short and have a computer nearby.
Images are stored on a MicroSD memory card. This type of card is used in Samsung smart phones so if you own one of those, they're interchangeable. The battery door is made of plastic and bends with manipulation.
Although the camera is small and buttons swamp the back, Samsung has managed to lay them out in an order that works. The camera feels good and the screen is bright and clear enough for everyday use, although it does suffer in direct sunlight.
The only real problem we got was our finger slipping over the flash when we were shooting in portrait orientation.
Image quality from the Samsung PL120 is good , considering the price point of the camera. Colours are recorded realistically in most situations and the only time we had a problem with discolouration was when going over ISO800. At that point dark and mid range tones take on a green tone to them.
In good, even light we found that noise isn't a problem on many occasions, even at ISO400 which is generally a benchmark for losing image quality from a digital compact cameras. However in normal shooting circumstances, we found that the noise reduction system often has to work overtime even at ISO80. That's not to say that the camera always struggled, in fact it was sporadic. There didn't seem to be a routine occasion that it happened.
Pressing the down arrow on the navigation pad enables macro focusing as close as 5cm. That's quite standard for a camera at this level and price range, but the pictures that it produces are great. We got consistently sharp and well exposed pictures in all, but low light conditions.
All the pictures we took have balanced and generally accurate exposures. The camera even turned up a few surprises by exposing really well in tricky conditions such as with backlit subjects or with reflections in the frame.
We tested the digital filters in a variety of scenarios and we like the more creative ones such as sketch and half tone. We also liked the subtle blurring of the frame in the miniature mode unlike the extreme (by comparison) blurring on the WB700. A word of caution when using these modes, some of them will reduce the resolution and there's no warning that it's happening.
We really like the pictures that we got from the PL120. They're sharp, punchy and well exposed. We did find that we preferred to under expose by a third of a stop but it was only to darken blue skies a bit and you may find that this isn't your own preference.
See sample images taken with the Samsung PL120 in a range of conditions.
Despite the bright highlights, the exposure is just right in this image
There's a respectable level of detail in this pine cone
The Sketch filter is quite effective here
Macro mode is useful and effective when shooting smaller details
Colours are vibrant without being excessive
The PL120 has coped well with the backlighting in this scene
Taken at the widest point of the lens
This is the same scene as above, but at the longest telephoto point
See how the Samsung PL120 fared in our ISO resolution test.
It's important to keep it in perspective that the PL120 is a cheap and cheerful camera because pictures from it are great. They're colourful with balanced exposure and a decent dynamic range. The previously mentioned issue with noise (or the effects of noise reduction) being apparent at low ISO in bright light could pose as a problem, but we found that it was only really noticeable when the picture was magnified to 100%.
Good colours and sharp edges mean great pictures for the holidaying family while the cheap price means it's easily replaced if it gets broken. The front screen helps to get the kids smiling and is useful with self portraits.
We saw some noise at really very ISO settings, but couldn't pin point a pattern when it happened. Some parts of the build are a bit flimsy and the back could be worked better.
For £100, this is a camera that you'll get a lot of use out of, from holidays to updating your profile picture on Facebook. The tiny size means that it'll simply fit into a pocket when it's not being used and the price means if it does get broken, it doesn't cost the earth to replace.
The Samsung PL120 is a camera that can be used by all the family from novice younger users, networking teenagers and proud parents to technophobic grandparents alike. The only problem we can foresee is with people who have larger hands. They probably won't get on with the tiny format or cluttered back. There are a lot of pros to outweigh the cons though.